ACT/FLO Parenting Approach
I have worn a lot of hats in my life. I am a certified sleep consultant, a licensed therapist, a mother, and a military wife. I’ve tried my hand at teaching, which led me to the world of therapy, and I failed miserably at sales for one of those MLM pyramid scheme companies. However, the hardest job I have ever had in my life, hands down, has been being a mom. I tell my clients, if it were any other job, you’d likely quit because the hours are long, you lose sleep, you constantly worry if you’re performing well enough, there is no such thing as instant gratification, and you give your entire self to this job, all without monetary pay. With that being said, there is no quitting parenthood. But once you start to reap the benefits, who would want to? When your baby smiles for the first time, when your kid hits those important milestones, when your child comes running to you to show you the drawing they are so proud of… those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.
Nevertheless, parenting is still hard. Often you may find yourself wondering if your approach to discipline is effective. You wonder if you are teaching the lesson you mean to teach. There are a million parenting books, each detailing a different discipline approach. With so many options, it can be hard to know which one to pick. Through my research and experience, I have found that the FLO method is an effective and easy tactic for parents to implement.
For more on FLO, you can read The Whole-Brain Child by Dan Siegel. It is one of my favorite parenting books. They refer to FLO and ACT, A- acknowledge the feeling, C- communicate the limit, and T- target acceptable options. For the purpose of this blog, I will use the acronym FLO, F- feelings, L- limits, O- options (it’s easier to remember).
So, here’s how it goes:
State your child’s feelings to them. This is a very important first step in any parenting practice. When you state your child’s feelings you are helping them to learn what they are feeling when they are feeling it. Once a child can accurately recognize and label his or her feelings, then they can begin to learn to cope with them. To read more on reflecting feelings, check out my blog post on the topic here.
State the limit, whatever it may be, clearly and concisely. It’s best to try to say this in 10 words or less. I typically use the basic guideline, “that is not for doing,” and then tailor it to the specific situation. For example, “the couch is not for jumping on,” “the wall is not for coloring on,” or “people are not for hurting.” The reason we phrase it this way is so we send the message that everyone in the world is not to do that. If you phrase it, “you can’t jump on the couch,” your child might think that he or she can’t but maybe their sibling or friend can. Taking “you” out of the statement makes it a general and universal rule.
Provide appropriate options. This is the step that most parents forget. They tell their kids what not to do but then they don’t follow up by telling them what they can do. For example, “stop jumping on the couch!” needs to be followed by, “you can jump on the trampoline.” Or “Do not speak to me in that disrespectful tone!” could be followed by “When you are angry, you can tell me in a calm voice or you can write it down and give it to me.” By providing options, you are teaching your child appropriate ways to cope with his or her emotions.
So, let’s see how this works in action:
Scene: You and your two kids, John and Bob, are playing with Legos. You are working on building a Lego ship together. Everything is going well, and the two kids are playing together nicely. Suddenly, John accidentally knocks over the front of the ship that Bob has been working so hard on. Of course, you know what happens next, Bob becomes angry, starts yelling, and throws a handful of Legos at John. You decide to put FLO into action here:
F- “Bob, you are feeling so angry!”
L- “Even when we are angry, people are not for hurting.”
O- “When you feel angry, you can tell us by speaking calmly, by writing it down, or you can rip this paper.” (It is important to decide ahead of time, if possible, on acceptable ways for your kids to express and release their anger. Most kids under 10 need some type of physical outlet like punching a pillow or breaking egg cartons.)
The key with FLO is to be consistent with it. Your child may still throw a tantrum or scream at you initially, but over time, he or she will learn positive coping skills and will begin to put them into action. I can’t stress enough that this process takes time. Kids need to be reminded consistently of appropriate behaviors. You will find yourself feeling like a broken record at first, and that is normal. Think of it as building a new habit. You’ve probably personally experienced the process of trying to break an old habit and replace it with a new, healthier habit. For all of us, whether we are children or adults, this takes time, patience, and grace.
For more on FLO, you can read The Whole-Brain Child by Dan Siegel. It is one of my favorite parenting books. They refer to FLO and ACT, A- acknowledge the feeling, C- communicate the limit, and T- target acceptable options.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. Langara College.